5 Questions to… Joseph Zyss, ENS Cachan


1/ Can you tell us something about your Institute, your work and your research?

I am a professor of physics at Ecole Normale Superieure in Cachan, next to Paris.

I am also the founding director of the D’Alembert Institute, a federation of four CNRS laboratories respectively in physics, applied physics, chemistry and life sciences.

Our mission is to develop research in the cross-disciplinary domain of “nanobiosciences”, with emphasis on photonics and both fundamental and applied endgoals. Our Institute run projects in biophotonics, micro-fluidics, next generation of chemical and biosensors or nanomaterials. It also relies on common technical platforms, such as in modern imaging techniques, polymer based technologies, nano-scale characterization tools, which are servicing the four laboratories and that each of them could not develop by itself. We are very open, and in fact very keen in developing international cooperation, for example with Taïwan and Israel (with which joint laboratories have been developed) and surely with India.

My own research has been, over now more than three decades, dedicated to molecular nonlinear optic, from a physicist point of view but in many ways, so close to chemistry and material sciences that the borders are blurred. I have contributed to the development of new material engineering approaches, based on theoretical methods as well as confrontation with experiments. I have recently turned my interest to the applications of nonlinear optics to multiphoton imaging. I am also addressing fundamental as well as applied issues in nonlinear dynamics and polymer based micro-lasers, making extensive use of nonlinear dynamics.


2/ How do you compare what’s happening in your field in India with the kind of work being pursued in France?

There is no doubt that the scientific quality of research in the general domain of optical physics and related scientific fields is excellent in both countries, but France has benefited in this domain of a deeply rooted tradition to this day, including the more recent field of nonlinear optics of which a number of pioneers are french. It seems, according to my Indian colleagues, that this domain did not receive the same level of attention and priority in India, hence their desire to develop ties as a way to push forward this important field for India into the future. The potential of India in this domain is enormous and it is largely depending on our ability to attract young talent. Our recent Indo-French Cefipra sponsored school on “Modern Nonlinear Optics” will have served a useful purpose in that respect if it will have convinced a number of Indian students to turn their attention to this domain and consider a research career therein.

3/ Can you tell us a little about your past collaborations with Indian researchers ?

My interactions with Indian researchers have been manifold and have been now spanning over many years, through many mutual visits and wonderful recollections that would suffice to fill this interview. Let me concentrate on the active ones these days, both in the area of Bangalore: one at IISc with Professor Ramasesha (structural chemistry) and P.K.Das (physical chemistry) on nonlinear scattering in molecular media where molecular associations are crucial. It involves a complex mix of experiments and advanced theoretical tools, from algebra to quantum chemistry. The second one is with the group of Professor Narayan, at JNCSAR and is dealing with new polymer based fibers which are electro-spun and display interesting lasing properties. 2012 has had a nice start in both directions with a paper accepted in The Journal of Chemical Physics for the first project and one which appeared in Applied Physics Letters for the second one. We are looking forward to many other ones in the near future and beyond. Other groups may join this effort, such as the one by Professor, Kailash Rustagi, from IIT Bombay, a very early pioneer of NLO himself and now very active in forefront nano-scale nonlinear optical studies.

4/ Could you tell us a little more about the Indo French School that took place at IISc recently?

This School was co-directed with my friend and co-worker Professor Ramasesha who deserves most of the credit as the local organizer and initiator of this school. He is an internationally reknown theoretician and a Professor at the Solid State and Structural Chemistry Unit of IISc, involved in advanced quantum theoretical methods with applications to the determination of dynamic nonlinear optical susceptibilities. He was assisted in his task by Professor P.K.Das, one of the most active researchers these days in nonlinear optical scattering, especially in the realm of chemical and biochemical materials and nano-materials.

The school itself was attended by over 30 registered students and many unregistered participants who attended only lectures of their interests.  There were about 20 outstation participants and rest from different departments of IISc and JNCASR.  Outstation participants were from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal and Trivandrum, Central University, Hyderabad, Jawaharlal Nehru University and a few more institutions. There was an almost equal mix of chemistry and physics students.

Five lecturers came from France (Ecole Polytechnique, Atomic Energy Comission, University of Rennes, and two from Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan) with an equivalent number of Indian lecturers. Each of them having gave an average of two to three lectures in fields pertaining to modern molecular NLO and well balanced contributions spanning chemical as well as physical areas, with a noteworthy emphasis on the nanoscale and on nanophotonics. This latter field amply justified the label “modern” that had been purposedly attached to the school.


5/ How do you think India and France can work together in this sector in the future?

This area of research has great potential for application and also offers great challenges in basic science. Experimental molecular and nano-scale nonlinear optics research in India, while of outstanding quality, is still quantitatively at least at relatively beginning stages as compared to other fields whereas in France, it has been a flourishing field for a many years, moreover backed by a long tradition in optics. The school provided young researchers with a detailed exposure to this field and interactions between the students and French and Indian lecturers will go a long way in establishing this field of research on strong foundations in India. For the future, it is hoped that Indian students will receive grants to do at least part of their training in France whereas French students will be encouraged to consider co-directed Ph.D’s in India as well as postdoctoral stays in India, in the excellent and burgeoning research groups in this domain. Specific programs in the areas of photonics and nonlinear optics should be promoted and funded if one wants to see the current level of cooperation increased, as it should.

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